Zombies make list, but not the cut
Columbia’s Zombies in Popular Media class ranked eighth on CNN’s Mental_Floss magazine’s “22 Fascinating and Bizarre College Classes” list, beating The Joy of Garbage taught at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, CA.
This J-Term course explores the history and depiction of zombies in popular media over the last century, according to Brendan Riley, creator and professor of Zombies in Popular Media. However, this course may not be in session this year because J-Term is one week shorter, due to the G-8 and NATO summits.
“[In class] we take a three-track approach,” Riley said. “We study the Haitian voodoo mythology and its presence in Hollywood films from the ’30s through the ’60s, the ‘Romero’ zombies most people think of when they hear the term and the philosophical zombie, an idea from philosophy that helps us think about the mind-body problem.”
In this course, students learn how important popular culture is in today’s society and how studying it can teach them more about themselves, Riley said.
Zombies in Popular Media was created in January 2007. According to Riley, when he was an undergraduate student he took an intense J-Term horror film class, which inspired him to start a class of his own.
“When Columbia decided to begin offering the J-Term, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to introduce a similar experience to our students,” Riley said. “Zombies fascinate me more than any other horror monster, so it was a natural fit.”
According to Terrance Brunk, English department associate professor, the English department is still looking into options for J-term classes.
“Our hope is that we can run [J-Term] courses as planned this January, perhaps in modified form to compensate for the missing week of face time,” Brunk said. “We’re exploring various possibilities, such as adapting part of the course into an online component or extending some of the work for the course into the first week of the regular spring session without conflicting with spring classes.”
Even if the class gets condensed, Columbia students don’t seem to mind.
“Brendan was always extremely lenient with altering the class to a lower level in credit hours,” said former Zombies in Popular Media student, Columbia Alum Jessica Kocemba, who was a Marketing Communication major. “If the class doesn’t get a full-time class status, though it should, I think that it would be extremely interesting and enriching even if there was less content.”
Riley is very pleased that his course made the CNN list but this isn’t the first time that the class has been mentioned as bizarre. According to Riley, various blogs have discussed Zombies in Popular Media in their lists as well, including a detailed description of the class.
With or without publicity, this course is very popular among students. According to Columbia alumnus Casey Shortt, who was a photography major, the class is worth taking during winter break.
“I’ll be honest and say that the class was a lot of work,” Shortt said. “But the amount of fun I had during the class discussions, watching movies and seeing the other student’s presentations definitely trumped the workload. My favorite part about the class was the fact that we watched movies almost every day.”
According to Shortt, it was interesting to compare and contrast zombie movies from the ’30s to modern day zombie movies.
Kocemba enjoyed the readings more than anything else, even though everyone else takes the class for its movie agenda, she said.
“Breaking the norm of watching zombie movies for gore and reading stories for depth was a huge step in understanding the literature and the hidden concepts that most people would miss,” she said.
Students such as Kocemba and Shortt are very satisfied with the class and don’t regret taking it during J-Term. The students and Riley are also pleased about making CNN’s list.
“The publicity is nice, and those who see the list in a prominent place like CNN may be intrigued by the schools that are running these courses and possibly follow up on [them],” Brunk said. “It’s probably mostly just … those who see the list may not have heard of Columbia … and it helps get the name out there.”